Safe Driving Say Insights Safe Driving Current Page

How long do brakes last?

How Long Do Brakes Last Blog Header

By Alex Neely on March 4, 2021 in Safe Driving

Brakes are one of the most important parts of a vehicle. The ability to stop your car when you choose is crucial to avoid accidents on the road. You do not want to take a chance on the break failing!

Do you know how often you’re supposed to replace your brakes? How can you tell when your brakes need to be replaced? Knowing these details about your brakes could help keep you and your family safe. Luckily, we’re here with the answers you seek!

How do brakes work?

Before diving into the ins and out of brakes – we’re leading a crash course on how our car’s brakes work! Luckily Firestone summed this up in a few sentences that are easy to digest – “By pressing down on the brake pedal, you activate the cylinder that delivers brake fluid to the calipers that then engage your brake pads. Your brake pads then apply pressure to the rotors, creating the friction needed to stop your car.”

In case you’re not familiar with each element:

  • CaliperGoodYear Auto Service says it best as, “The brake caliper houses your car’s brake pads and pistons. Its job is to slow the car’s wheels by creating friction with the brake rotors.”

Plus, they have lots of information on calipers if you find yourself wanting more.

  • Brake pedal – The pedal in your car that you press to activate the braking process. It’s always the left pedal to avoid confusion between different vehicles.
  • Brake fluid – Brake fluid has an important job. At a very basic level, the brake fluid transfers the force from you pressing the pedal to the front and rear brakes.
  • Brake pad – This is one we’ll bring up a lot in the next few sections! Most cars use copper, ceramic, iron, or steel for the brake pad because they last longer. They have a friction material to help stop the vehicle.

How long do brakes last?

This one varies based on car usage – a common theme among car maintenance. A city driver who’s constantly stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic might need to replace their brakes sooner than a rural driver who drives more on highways with little traffic.

Auto Guide reports, “The general consensus is that a set of brake pads can last anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000 miles.” Keep in mind specific driving patterns and usage, weather where you live, and the pad material all tie into the life of your brake pads. This is why the number of miles fluctuates quite a bit.

How can you tell your brakes need to be replaced?

Car and Driver points out a couple of “red flags” that means it’s time to tune-up or replace your car’s brakes.

  • “SCREEEEEECH” – If you apply the brakes and hear something like that it could be because your brake pads are worn too thin. This noise could also sound like scraping or grinding. Hearing this every time you brake is not only annoying but potentially unsafe.

Pro Tip: It is normal for your brakes to make a slight screeching noise if left out overnight in rain or snow. However, after you’ve been on the road for a while it should subside – if it doesn’t you might have a problem.

  • Peep your tires – Take a peek through your wheel spokes. If you can see the brake pad, make sure it has at least a quarter-inch of material there. Don’t worry if you’re not quite sure what it should look like, just do a quick Google search for “new versus worn brake pads” and use the images to guide you.
  • Stop time – When you roll up to a red light, do your brakes take longer than usual to stop your car? Do you slightly veer to one side when you brake? Both of these are indicators that your brakes need a mechanic’s attention. These aren’t caused by brake pads wearing down but different problems within the brake system such as leaks in the brake fluid or failing brake master cylinders.

How to replace brakes?

If you consider yourself a pretty handy person, you could opt to replace your brakes at home! However, there are pros and cons to doing-it-yourself. Additional problems (outside of just replacing the pads and replenishing the fluid) might not be as obvious to the everyday driver, so be sure you know the ins and outs of your brake system and what to look for before jumping into this task.

All that aside, if you decide to do the repair from the comfort of your home garage. ChrisFix shows you all the steps in his YouTube video! If you prefer to read a step-by-step guide, don’t fret, Edmunds is here for you.


Erring on the side of caution when it comes to brakes isn’t a bad idea. If you have concerns, feel free to reach out to your auto shop or dealership to get answers or make an appointment for further investigation.

Alex Neely is a Data Analyst at Say Insurance. He graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics with an emphasis in Actuarial Science. His experience is in Statistical and Financial Analysis. Alex enjoys applying his analytical background to the Say team to help guarantee the best experience for our customers.